The Internet’s A Stage

I am always super-nervous about events. Not the bit where I stand up and people look at me and I talk about being an idiot and also about my books. I love talking, especially about my books! The part that makes me nervous is the bit where I meet people, and these worries arise: oh-my-goodness-they-came-to-see-me-how-do-I-make-this-worth-their-while, I-have-awful-face-recognition-skills-what-if-we-met-before, if-they-have-something-to-say-to-me-I-want-to-hear-it-but-I-do-not-want-to-make-them-feel-awkward-with-pauses. It is nerve-wracking, because I am super-grateful to anyone who reads my books and comes to my appearances, and I want to not let them down!

As I like people, especially people who read books, and I want to meet them and say thank you to them, I am always even more happy than I am nervous. And I figure when people meet me, they see a person, and if the person blithers the wrong thing at them, it’s not the end of the world. Though I’ll try to blither the right thing next time.

On the flip side, being on the internet means that you can’t see a person. (What insight, everyone murmurs. The woman’s a genius.)

I feel nervous about being on the internet, too. Over the last year, I’ve found myself wanting to put up blog posts, and not putting them up. Partly this is because–time management skills? What is this ‘time’ that you speak of?–Partly it’s because I’ve been sad, and being sad makes for sucky blog posts. ‘Contemplated ceiling. Felt cranky about ceiling. What are you looking at, ceiling?’ (Gripping stuff.)

Part of it has been about being a writer on the internet, though, and what that means.

I never thought it would mean much. I realise, say, Stephenie Meyer gets it in the neck on the internet. People make assumptions about her beliefs, discuss what she looks like, and so forth. Which I bet is awful for Stephenie Meyer. She is also very rich, and millions of people love and are made happy by what she does! It is a trade: being famous and successful means lots of excellent stuff and lots of terrible stuff. People see you differently.

I am not talking about being famous, for I am not famous and I have no idea what that is like! (For the record, while I would totally take being famous if it was offered me, because–lots of people loving my books!–I imagine I would cope with it badly. Since I find tasks like ‘brushing my hair every day’ a little much for me. Kudos, Stephenie Meyer, your hair always looks great!)

But just ‘being a writer on the internet’ is sometimes kind of a complicated proposition. Ilona Andrews puts it best here, in a post which I’ve linked to before but it bears repeating because it’s awesome! This is the relevant bit: ‘You stop being a person and become a representative of your books… It’s a bit difficult to readjust, because you yourself haven’t changed.’

Stopping being a person really resonates with me. Other people’s perception of me is different.

On one of the short stories I put up on the blog, I asked people not to tell me about not reading the books in that particular post, because, well, I wanted the short story to be a celebration of the books and for fans of the books, and I was worried about how the new book was doing and didn’t want to worry more. And a couple of people said ‘Explain this request of yours!’ and I was like ‘Because… my feelings? I would prefer if you didn’t… hurt them?’ Now, my feelings are not, like, super-important. No more so than anyone else’s! Nobody should lie about anything to spare them. I very strongly feel people shouldn’t worry about the author’s feelings when critiquing a book, for instance. But… I have feelings, obviously! They motivate me to do and want things. It was a strange feeling (there’s that word again) to realise that me having feelings hadn’t occurred to someone.

I once saw someone I knew a little online discussing how surprised they were that I’d say I didn’t like the TV show Supernatural, as if I shouldn’t have done it, and got a shock because it had never occurred to me that expressing my personal preferences in TV would hurt my books.

I once saw someone saying that they were irked at me for saying I was surprised people didn’t realise a character was gay in a book where said character checked out someone of the same gender. I am still surprised, but it made me go ‘Should I have qualified that more–should I have talked about the dangers of not being very explicit, or society’s perceptions, or about how it’s a complicated issue–was I accidentally gross, what did I say specifically?’

I bring this up to note that when I say something stupid now, it’s not ‘Sarah says something stupid, hopefully she will wise up soon’ but ‘A writer thinks this stupid thing, is stupid and wrong-thinking.’ Which is not always comfortable.

It is not all about my feelings. But my feelings… um… exist, and sometimes they make stuff like blogging difficult.

Being online (blogging, tweeting, facebooking, singing songs on youtube–I have never done that, because I have the singing voice of a mournful vulture, arriving too late to eat any entrails) is this weird mix of the professional and personal.

I’ve seen people online saying ‘I’m a Sarah Rees Brennan fan, I’ve never read her books’ and that seems odd to me, like me saying ‘I’m a big Taylor Swift fan, I’ve never heard her songs.’ Taylor Swift is a singer: I’m a writer. It’s totally fine to read the blog–or to generally approve of, I don’t know, my face–and not read the books. For instance, I like jimhines‘s blog, but I haven’t read his books. (Though I plan to, because I like his blog!) It’s just that it knocks me for six a bit, leaving me wondering uneasily ‘What is it they’re a fan of…?’ and ‘But part of the blog is meant to make people want to read the books… what am I doing wrong?’ Result: paranoia.

I’ve also seen people saying something along the lines of ‘Sarah Rees Brennan let me down.’ With… my books? Because of something I said? Because… they’re my mother, and I totally forgot to pick up pie? (Get off the internet, Mum! Also I’m sorry. I’ll bring you pie.) Sometimes there’s no way to know! And I’m always sorry to hear it. I don’t want to let anybody down! It’s weird to know you can let strangers down. I’m like ‘I’ll do better!’ But ‘doing better’ is never going to be ‘doing perfectly.’ Result: paranoia.

There’s also a way for people to ‘punish’ you, once you’re a writer: not read your books. I use quotation marks for punish, because zillions of people around the world are not reading my books, and that does not mean that zillions of people have picked me up, put me on the naughty mat and said sternly ‘Now Sarah, think about what you’ve done. Also, no supper for you, young lady.’

There are a majillion (I use very scientific terms) reasons not to read my books: saw ’em on the shelves and didn’t fancy the cover or description, totally scared of demons, never read teen books, never read books written by girls, never heard of them, just don’t feel like it, whatever. But people will announce they’re not reading your books because of something you did. Which: fair enough. I don’t read Orson Scott Card’s books because I disagree with his views on gay rights, and that substantial a disconnect between our minds makes me worry I’ll find myself reading something that upsets and offends me. Reading is for entertainment: if you don’t think you’ll be entertained, don’t read!

But announcing it to the writer feels a bit different. I had a fight on twitter with someone telling me that because they liked my blog, they might give my books a look one day–but maybe not, because we were having this disagreement. Of course, I didn’t say ‘Never mind that then! You’re right! Pleeeeeeeease read my books, kind sir or madam!’ But it did cross my mind, the next time I thought ‘Shall I express my opinion on a subject?’ Since of course I want people to read my books: I don’t want something I say to get in the way of that. Result: paranoia.

There’s also the online disinhibition effect, whereby people will say stuff online they would never, ever say in person. It goes twice for writers, insofar as I’ve noticed: people will say stuff about your character, or Lord forbid your looks (you may have heard that I’m no pixie ;)), about your friends, about your religion. Result: paranoia.

I could sit around listing off other reasons to be paranoid. I’m only using things that have happened to me, and in fairly accessible internet-places like my blog and twitter, and fairly low-key stuff. I’ve seen loads of other stuff: people saying a writer should be drowned, or slapped in the face, or discussing their significant others/marital status/chances of acquiring same, or threatening their pets: I’m purposely not bringing up really upsetting things, because I hope we can all agree death threats = never okay! And not something that can be discussed calmly. (For the record on death threats: yes, I have got some.)

There are times when I want to say something about feminism, about a holiday with my friends, about race issues or gay issues, about book piracy, about publishing, about my hair, about anything, really, and I think ‘Do I have the time and the emotional wherewithal to deal if I say something on the internet, and a lot of people tell me I suck?’ And sometimes the answer is ‘Why, no!’

Being a writer is necessarily going to be a public endeavour. Your books are available to the public, and public opinion of them will mean you have a job later, or you don’t! A writer’s blog on the world wide web is… also a public thing (they give you a hint with the words ‘world wide web’), and also tied in with your books, and your audience.

Selling my books is not the only reason I write my blog, though it is a big part: gaining new and keeping old readers is awesome. But I had a blog for years before I ever had books to sell, though I always talked about my writing on it, because… it’s always been an important part of my life.

This is not a post about how dreadful it is to be a writer, or to blog. If it was dreadful, I’d stop. I love writing my books: it is one of the great joys of my life. And I like writing my blog! I want to talk about my life on my blog, I want to talk about the stuff I believe in, the books I’m reading and the thoughts I’m thinking. Also I want to talk about TV and stuff I think is hilarious. As regards my books, I want to have an online presence so I can talk to more readers than I could otherwise, because that means something to me. But none of this is totally easy.

And that’s what all this boils down to, really: a list of reasons why I haven’t been blogging that much, why it’s complicated, and why I want to blog more, too. I think I will.

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